MINNEAPOLIS -- The brand new 2014 edition of the Minneapolis City Council met for the first time Monday, in a meeting marked by the sound of loud protesters outside the chambers.
The rhythmic chants were just part of the palette of sounds that inundated the historic City Hall building on a day when the temperature outdoors remained in the double digits below zero.
The first notes heard came from twin violins, played as part of the formal inauguration ceremony for the 13 council members and Mayor Betsy Hodges, who was sworn into office Jan. 2. The seven new members include the first members ever from the city's Hmong, Latino and Somali immigrant communities.
"The demographics in Minneapolis and Hennepin County are changing quickly, so it was about time it happened," Blong Yang, the new council member from Ward 5, told KARE.
He's part of a freshman class that also includes Abdi Warsame, Alondra Cano, Lisa Bender, Linea Palmisano, Jacob Frey and Andrew Johnson.
"The seven of us, for the most part, are not a voting bloc. People have their varied interest," Yang remarked.
"They're going to fight for what they believe in and care for, and sometimes we're going to be at opposite ends."
The protesters, representing Neighborhoods Organized for Change and Occupy Homes MN, staged a rally for income equity in the same rotunda where the inaugurations had taken place. They're calling for affordable housing reforms and $15 minimum wage in the city.
They praised Hodges for her issuing a challenge to the City Council, during her inauguration speech, to erase racial disparities in hiring and school achievement. Those gaps are more pronounced in Minnesota than in most states.
The rally in the City Hall rotunda broke up just as the new council members were taking their seats on the third floor. The demonstrators made their way up stairs and crowded into the hallway outside the council chambers and began shouting, "Let the people speak!"
The first session, held for the purpose of electing leaders, was open only to the media and ticket-holding guests of the council members.
Cano asked her colleagues to alter the meeting agenda to allow members of the public an open microphone for 15 minutes.
Veteran council member Barb Johnson opposed the idea, noting that traditionally public testimony is taken only at committee meetings. She suggested members of the public wishing to be heard should speak to a committee chair and find an appropriate date to offer testimony.
Cano's motion garnered 7 of 13 votes, but that was two votes short of the 9-vote super majority required for amending the meeting agenda.
A few minutes later the council unanimously reelected Barb Johnson as president, a post she has held since 2006.